Why did you give my child a C+?
I’m sorry, I’m not sure who you are?
I’m Mrs. X and you gave my child a C+ as his final grade, why?
Oh, nice to meet you Mrs. X. I gave your son a C+ as his final grade is due to a number of things. He didn’t hand in seven homework assignments despite me giving him multiple opportunities, he got a 73 on his final, and his writing is really lacking. He almost never puts a capital at the beginning of a sentence, often leaves out punctuation marks at the end of his sentences, every essay he writes is one long paragraph, and –
Are you an English teacher?
No, but I’m a high school teacher, and –
Are you an English teacher?
No, but any high school teacher is supposed to demand a basic standard of writing in all their-
If you’re not an English teacher, why are you lowering my sons grade because of punctuation? That’s not what you teach!
I’m not an English teacher, but when I ask for an essay from an 11th grader, I expect an essay and not a barely decipherable jumble of words that often don’t answer the question being-
You have no right to lower my son’s grade because you don’t like the way he writes, you don’t teach English!
Ma’am, I’m sorry you feel that way, but-
But what? Are you going to bring that grade back up? My son is not getting a C+ just because some Judaic studies teacher wants to pick on him!
I understand your frustration, but I’m not going to be changing the grade.
Well, then I’m going to speak to the Head of School about this…
This is an almost word for word record of a conversation I had with a parent many years ago. I had the honor of teaching high school students for ten years of my life, and to this day it remains one of the most cherished jobs I’ve ever had. There is an incredible sense of fulfillment in seeing a student slowly but steadily grow over the course of a year, not just in the academic subject but in their maturity and personal development as well. And throughout ten years of high school teaching, by far the most difficult people to deal with were the parents.
To be clear, the vast majority of the parents were wonderful, mature, and supportive of the role the teachers played in their children’s lives. But there were a good number of parents that were so inappropriate that I almost wanted to show their children favoritism because I felt bad for them. If I wanted to run away every time I saw Mrs. X striding down the hallways of the school heading toward me like a woman on a crusade, imagine what it must feel like to come home to that every day! Parents yelled at me, called me incompetent, and threatened to get me fired, and all because I gave their child a grade they didn’t agree with. In conversations with other teachers, some admitted to me that they sometimes gave students better grades than they deserved just not to have to deal with the parents.
Every time a parent would walk out on me and head to the principals office to continue their holy crusade, I used to think to myself, “When that poor kid gets out into the real world, he’s going to be in some real trouble, because Mommy and Daddy won’t be able to help him there, and he’ll be wholly unprepared…” Evidently I was wrong, as reports are coming in now that many helicopter parents don’t fly away when their child graduates college, they stay right where they, hovering inches over their child’s head.
A 2007 Michigan State study involving 725 employers, reported that 31% of the employers had parents apply for a job for their adult children, 15% reported fielding complaints from parents angry that their child was passed over for a promotion, 9% had a parent try to negotiate their child’s salary or benefits package, and 4% reported that a parent actually attended the job interview with their adult children!
In a 2016 study, hiring managers were asked to describe some of the strangest encounters they’ve had with parents. Here is a sampling of their responses:
· The candidate opened his laptop and had his mother Skype in for the interview.
· A parent asked if she could do the interview for her child because he had somewhere else to be.
· A job seeker was texting his parent the questions I was asking during the interview and waiting for the responses.
· A father called us pretending he was from the candidate’s previous company and offered praise for his son.
· A woman brought in a cake to try to convince us to hire her daughter.
· Moms and Dads have called to ask us why we didn’t hire their child.
In one instance, a hiring manager at a magazine got a baffling message directed to her personal Twitter account. “You’ve got a lot of nerve getting someone’s hopes up like that.” The hiring manager had no idea who had sent it, but the last name looked familiar. After looking into it, she discovered that it was the mother of a girl she had interviewed for a job as a writer, but ultimately didn’t get the job. Evidently, you not allowed to interview someone without hiring them because you’re getting their hopes up.
I’m just waiting for parents to start sitting in on their children’s dates, and even better, going on the dates on behalf of their child who has somewhere else to be!
There’s no doubt in my mind that the parents we’ve been describing above are well meaning, they want nothing more than to see their children’s success. But the fundamental piece missing is that the success of their child hinges on their independence, on their ability to learn accountability and self-determination. As long as Mom and Dad are taking care of you, you are not taking care of you, and if you are not taking care of you, who would hire you to take care of other things, who would want to look at you as a prospect for taking care of a family?
In Judaism, we get excited about people achieving independence. When someone becomes Bar or Bas mitzvah, we celebrate that they are now responsible for their own mitzvah observance. In the Torah, we see Avraham making a feast to celebrate the time that his son Isaac was weaned, and no longer had to nourish himself exclusively from his mother. Maimonides says that the highest form of charity is to help someone get a job or start a business so that they can achieve independence and no longer have to rely on charity from others.
In Psalms (89:3), we are told that “The world with kindness will be built.” This makes kindness one of the highest traits one can have, it is the way we build the world around us, the way we emulate our Creator, the One who always operates out of kindness. But when we describe kindness, we usually use the phrase, “גמילות חסדים, gemilus chassadim.” An example of this is the Talmudic statement (Shabbos, 127A), which lists the things for which we reap reward in this world while the principal reward is held for us in the World to Come, one of them is gemilus chassadim. This is usually translated as “bestowing kindness.” But there is another meaning as well. Gemilus can also mean the weaning of, (see Genesis 21:8,) this is telling us that the type of kindness we want to do it “weaning kindness,” the kindness that fosters not needing kindness.
Parents undoubtedly have children out of a desire to give, as there is no greater way to give than to bring someone into the world and care for their needs. But we need to give to our children “weaning kindness,” the kind that builds them into people who don’t rely on us anymore (except for sage advice!).
When we let our children fail; a class, to get a job, to get a promotion, they can learn how to pick themselves up from failure, they can learn to stand on their own two feet. But if we keep involving ourselves in their decisions, we deny them the greatest gift, what we originally tried to give them, themselves.
We see this weaning kindness being exercised by G-d every day, millions of times. He sees us failing, he sees people doing everything He asked them not to do because it was bad for them, but not only does He not intervene, he actually gives them the strength to do it! He wants us to learn through trial and error, He wants us to come to proper decision making through failure and falling, He wants us to forge ourselves in the crucible of real life actions and consequences.
It is never easy to let go, it is always hard to see the people we love going through challenges, but often the greatest kindness we can do is step out of the way while they’re
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Parsha is the first Parsha to detail many of the civil and criminal laws that are an integral part of the Torah. Examples of laws found in this week’s parsha are those dealing with stolen items, property damage, murder, integrity of the judicial system, and the responsibility of guardians.
The commentators ask what connection there is between this week’s Parsha and the end of last week’s Parsha, which dealt with the altar in the temple and tabernacle. They explain that the juxtaposition is supposed to teach us that the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Jewish Court, should convene in close proximity to the altar. In practice, the Sanhedrin met in a chamber on Temple Mount, called The Chamber of Palhedrin. What is the connection between those two – why did G-d make these two ideas adjacent in the Torah, and why does He hint to us that the Sanhedrin should be near the altar?
One explanation of this juxtaposition is that the Torah is directing us to a fundamental duality of Jewish life, civic responsibility and service of G-d. Although it may seem that one is a religious matter and the other is not, Judaism sees both as primary expressions of what it means to be a Jew. A person who focuses only on service of G-d or on his civic responsibility will not be develop his full Jewish potential. Being very pious in the House of Worship, but then going to the boardroom and committing fraud, tax evasion, or other white collar crimes, is not an acceptable form of Judaism. Neither is being scrupulous in business, paying taxes on time, never stealing a penny from anyone, but then ignoring G-d, or not having any relationship with Him.
A recent colossal financial scandal that rocked the Jewish world underscores this point. While the main perpetrator may have given large sums of charity, and volunteered his time to sit on the boards of many non-profits, his professed piety clearly did not translate into his business practices. He was a person who would have been happy to see the court far from the Temple, so that he could maintain his religious actions without having his conscience assaulted by the paragon of jurisprudence being located next to the altar. But our Sages teach us that the very first question we get asked when we come before the Heavenly Court after passing to the Next World, is “Did you conduct your business affairs faithfully?” There is no split between the altar and the court.
Unfortunately, our world also suffers greatly from a lack of appreciation for the other side of this message. Many people confuse being a good Jew with being a good citizen. They feel that as long as they are honest in business, pay their taxes, keep their lawn mowed and sidewalks shoveled, they are being all they can be as Jews. But in truth, that might make them a good American, but Judaism is a much richer experience than that, one that includes a relationship with the Divine; one that includes prayer, Torah study, mitzvos, and spirituality. Right next to the zenith of civic propriety was the altar – the place where mankind related to Hashem.
There is an analogy often used to understand this concept. Imagine a person who achieves extraordinary success. He becomes a world renowned surgeon saving people’s lives daily, and then turns to research and discovers the cure to a particularly resistant strain of cancer. He flies all over the world presenting his findings and freely dispensing his cures. There is one thing however that separates him from most people. He has no relationship whatsoever with his parents, despite the fact that his parents took good care of him as a child, showered him with love and attention, and worked hard to ensure that he would have numerous avenues to develop his skills and faculties. In Judaism, this person would be the person who does everything right from a civic standpoint yet has no relationship with G-d, no personal altar.
The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was meant to be a model that showed Jews the way to make a temple within themselves. Indeed the wording for the commandment to make a Tabernacle indicates this, “And they shall make for me a Tabernacle and I will dwell within them. (Exodus 25:8)” Just as the Temple had the civic courts of justice and the altar next to each other indicating their equal importance, so to we should make our civic justice and our relationship with G-d into equal components of the temples we build within us!
This Parsha is where we begin to learn about the Jewish system of law. The first verse starts with a fundamental, namely that a Jew cannot take his legal issues to a non-Jewish court even if he knows they will give the same verdict as the Jewish court. We believe that when a Jewish judge sits in trial, he receives Divine assistance, which aids him in adjudicating properly. A non-Jew in a secular court doesn’t have that added benefit, therefore the Torah commands us to bring our issues before a Jewish court.
The first laws dealt with in this portion are those of the Jewish servant, someone who stole and didn’t have the money to return the stolen goods, who the court then sold so he could pay the victim of his thievery. The Sages tell us, “Anyone who buys a servant is acquiring a master for himself.” According to Jewish law, not only does the master need to take care of the servant’s wife and kids (who are not working for him), but if there is only one pillow in the house it must be given to the servant. The goal of the servitude is to rehabilitate the criminal by having him be around his master for a number of years and see how fair and upright he is. (Having once been beaten by a gang of thugs fresh out of prison, I believe that anything would probably be better at rehabilitating miscreants than our current prison system!)
There are so many laws in this week’s Parsha that I will only list some of them. After the laws pertaining to servants, the Torah deals with: murder – intentional and unintentional, kidnapping, striking or cursing of parents, and damages for bodily harm to others caused by a person, his property, or his animal. It teaches us how to deal with the stealing of livestock or other goods, the right to self defense, the different types of legal guardians, and the laws of a seducer, sorcerer, or people who engage in bestiality. G-d warns us to be extra sensitive to widows, orphans, and converts, warns us against charging interest for loans, and reminds us of the importance of upholding the integrity of the judicial system.
Next, we get back to some general mitzvos as G-d commands us here regarding the laws of Shmitah (leaving the land fallow on the 7th year), the laws of Shabbos, and the laws of the three major festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Succos. After that G-d promises us that He will watch over us, and get us settled into the Holy Land swiftly and safely, without disease or lost battles.
The last part of the Parsha goes back to the narrative of the Jews at Sinai. We are told that the Jews, upon being asked if they wanted the Torah, replied, “Na’aseh V’Nishma,” meaning we will do and we will listen. This was the Jewish people’s way of showing their complete faith in G-d. They were so certain that G-d would only give them mitzvot which were good for them that they accepted them even before hearing them all. Even today, we can still express the idea behind Na’aseh V’Nishma by doing the mitzvot we don’t yet understand as beneficial or just. When we do them anyway, we show that we do even what we don’t fully “hear” (understand). That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Our costliest expenditure is our time. ~ Theophrastus
Random Fact of the Week: The Library of Congress has 327 miles of bookshelves.
Funny Line of the Week: A burrito is a just sleeping bag for ground beef.
Have a Feisty Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham